Eden Strategy Institute featured in The Sunday Times

Make the world a better place

By Geraldine Ling

Social Innovation consultant Calvin Chu Yee Ming helps companies grow profitably while addressing social needs

He travels around the globe, helping organisations, but Mr Calvin Chu Yee Ming (centre), 33, is not a social worker or a full-time volunteer.

He is a social innovation consultant who helps companies to grow profitably through crafting new business models that address social needs, including the reduction of poverty and disease.

In his job, business models, for example, may take the form of microfinancing models, where small loans are made to the working poor to sustain their businesses. These individuals, say farmers or textile store owners, typically do not qualify for larger loans as they lack the collateral to do so.

“The banks reach a broader base of people and at the same time, help them out of poverty,” says the partner and owner of social innovation firm, Eden Strategy Institute.

However, Mr Chu’s clients are not limited to banks alone. His expertise has also helped governments and other commercial firms in the areas of energy efficiency and policy making.

Finding solutions
Strategising new solutions that work is often a long and difficult process that requires much research, he says.

A consultant has to typically first identify the problems which hinder a company from reaching its full potential.

“The idea is to give clients insights into their problems at a very early stage. Clients need to feel that they ‘own’ the ideas before they will implement them,” he says.

Credibility is also of utmost importance.

“To be credible, you need to speak their language and show them examples of successful cases you’ve completed before. That opens the door for a meaningful dialogue with the client,” he says.

Solutions are then proposed, followed by tests that determine and refine the efficacy of these solutions.

Finally, workshops and change management training programmes are conducted to set the solution in motion.

A project can take about three to six months to complete. More than half of his time is dedicated to overseas trips to countries like Vietnam or Pakistan, where he conducts on-the-ground interviews with people including consumers and senior government officials. This helps him to fully understand the local markets and situations in each country.

Mr Chu’s dedication towards social causes stems from his early days as a psychology and political science student in the National University of Singapore.

Then, he was an avid volunteer at the Rotary Club of Singapore, an organisation which bands business and professional leaders to provide community service here and overseas.

However, his passion for social innovation was ignited only when he joined a global consulting firm upon graduation.

During his work there, he realised that it was possible for companies to create a social impact while generating profit, thanks to the projects he took on. These included helping a telecommunications company take its services to rural countries, which helped farmers and fishermen improve their livelihood.

“People normally think that social causes are not profitable, but that’s not true,” he says.

He also saw social innovation as the link between corporate life and volunteerism.

“People spend so much time at work, but they are increasingly keen to create more meaning in their life. However, their time is usually tied up at work. I asked myself what if they could create an impact through their work and still find the meaning they desire,” he says.

This vision, he says, prompted him to conceptualise Eden Strategy Institute, which he eventually launched March last year, after graduating with a Master of Business Administration from the University of Chicago.

It has been a challenging journey, but Mr Chu says it has been worth the effort.

“At the end of the day, what do you have? You can’t take your money or fame with you.

“All you have is that you’ve helped to make the world a better place.”

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